5 surprising lessons India taught me about love and relationships

I spent a month traveling in India alone, with no agenda but the openness for what this incredible land would teach me.

Besides the beauty of the nature and architecture, it was the train, bus, camping, plane, chai conversations that left me inspired.

As a seeker of love, many of the conversations centered around relationships, romance and marriage.

Here are 5 lessons I gathered that have come to challenge my beliefs and shake my assumptions.

1- Your spouse is not your everything

Oftentimes in the west you want your spouse to be your lover, the ideal parent, your financial partner, your best friend, your soulmate, your everything. That is too much pressure on any human being and sets the whole thing for failure,
admitted my Punjabi train mate, who has been married for 20 years.
No wonder people tell me marriage is a lot of work. I thought.

Most importantly, no wonder why we are easily disappointed when dating. When I asked my new friend for advice he recommended, splitting your needs amongst other family and friends in your life.

He saves deep existential pondering to his cousin who is into them. He travels on adventures with his friends. In fact he rarely travels with his wife, because she is more of a home body, and that is not an issue or a problem. In this case, as a partner you have more freedom to be yourself because you don’t have to be anyone’s everything.

2- Marriage is not personal

When you marry someone, you marry their families. You even live with some of the family members. Which means you behave in a more thoughtful and wise way with your spouse. When you want to get angry you think twice. If you want to leave, the stakes are higher because you are leaving a whole family behind. This aspect of marriage means you are likely to act at your best, said my Punei guest house mate who has been married for the past 2 years.

“Sometimes when I am fed up with him I remember how loving are his parents to me, and then I calm down because this is not just about the two of us.”

Marriage is bigger than a mere union of two people, in other words, when problems occur, it is not personal. It is communal.

3- Arranged marriage is better than you think

“I love arranged marriage, gushed a 30 year old Bombay single woman I met on the plane. I get to have as much fun as I want before and when I am ready I know I can call up my parents and they will have some options ready for me. I don’t need to do all the work.”

Indeed, I often wonder how much time and energy we spend looking, online dating, investing in relationships that go nowhere. I am sure my mother would do a good job, and even enjoy the process of picking my partner. The biggest upside for arranged marriage she shared, is that if it doesn’t work it’s not your fault. Your parents picked the man. So either way You are off the hook.

4- The other kind of love

While in Rishikesh, I met an old couple who seemed so in love. So I asked their son:”love marriage right?” Not at all he laughed and said “very much arranged. And they are inseparable. I decided to spend that afternoon inquiring about their relationship over many cups of chai.

The husband shared with me: I fell in love with her 18 years into the marriage when our son left for the UK. I loved her for her patience, what a wonderful mother she had been, and for being by my side. I would give up the world s greatest romance for this kind of love. I think it is a divine love.”

She turned her face in a shy move, and then mentioned to me later in private that she secretly dreamed of leaving him 2 years into the marriage but she is glad they stuck together, because she is sure she would not have gotten to know the real man he is and he’s the kindest man in the world.

5- The work is after the commitment

Why do you take so long to commit, asked my Ladakhi guide? You stay together for years and years and then you break up. In his case he married his wife 2 months after getting to know her. I challenged him saying that’s not enough time to know the person.

“I am sure there will be things we won’t like about each other. But with commitment we work them out.”

Without commitment I thought, we look for the next best thing, because we have glossy options a click away, because we have time, and most importantly because we want it easy. Little do we know we are missing out on a different kind of experience, by not taking a risk.

What if romance and marriage were two different affairs altogether,” suggested my 39 year old married friend in Delhi. What if you experienced all the intensity of passion, jealousy, crazy sex and then when you are ready, you commit to another kind of love, a friendship kind of love. A respect kind of love. A committed kind of love.

For a romantic like me, this thought has kept me up at night.

I have experienced the burning of the romantic love that turned into ashes faster than my heart could realize it was about to break, I have seen couples have it both: romance and commitment. The only truth that is, is our own experience, albeit this time more open and nuanced given the wisdom of the incredible India.

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